The title of this post is a little misleading; for any reason I could isolate as the reason we do this thing, someone could pipe up, “Not me! That’s not the main reason I write/illustrate/edit/design children’s books!” But I can say with utter faith that all of us live for the moments when we see our work connecting with young readers. That is joy. Witness three-year-old Duncan’s delight reading a Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie book:
Now, that is an engaged reader. He is in that story! (And what a perceptive reader and actor he is at age three!)
A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a Children’s Literacy Foundation author event in a town I hadn’t visited before. (In addition to being a bookseller, I am also a children’s book author, and though I don’t have as much time as I’d like for visits to schools and libraries, due to the demands of the store, I do them when I can.) While I was in the middle of reading one of my picture books, this little preschool girl piped up loudly, “I LIKE this book!” It was so charming and heartwarming and spontaneous. I said to her, “This book likes you, too!” And it did.
Last weekend, out of town in Stowe, I was at an outside fire pit, and a couple with a five-year-old daughter (not a family from last month’s literacy event) joined our group. The dad looked over at me and said, “Hey, it’s the author of Tap Tap Boom Boom!” He turned to his daughter. “Louisa, this is the author of that book! She wrote the words!” Louisa jumped up and down. “We just read that last night! Tap tap, tap tap, boom boom, crackle BOOM!” she said. It is pretty wonderful to have kids chant your books at you. My out-of-town friends were mightily impressed; they had no idea that the times a mid-list children’s book author usually gets recognized in public can be counted on a hand or two. “Does this happen to you all the time?” they asked. Why yes, yes it does.*
*If you are Mo Willems.
We create these books alone, often without child feedback until the books are finished and out in the world, so the delight in encountering their ripples after the pebble of the story is tossed into the pond is beautiful. As a bookseller, too, I see this joy magnified thousands of times over, as authors and artists visit the bookstore and we witness the wonder and awe and exuberance of children’s responses to the magic of created worlds that they have created and that little readers like Duncan have made their own.
Tonight, I have just closed the end cover of Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s new MG novel, The Book of Boy. It’s a medieval tale whose initial pages seem to be leading us in a particular direction, an enjoyable, picaresque tale we think we recognize from other books in the genre, but instead soon takes us somewhere unexpected and wonderful and mysterious. I don’t want to say more, because I believe this is one of the books that should be read knowing as little as possible about the plot, but I will say that it made me feel like a young reader again, fully absorbed in the world on the page and the experiences and ideas that unfolded in my mind as I read. This is why authors do what they do—to lose and find themselves in stories and characters, and to create worlds where readers can lose and find themselves, too.